Seventeen years after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, the state legislature has finally enacted civil unions. The bill passed the state House by a 31-20 vote, and now heads to Gov. Linda Lingle.

In 1993, the Hawaii Court ruled that the state must show a “compelling interest” in prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples. That ruling sparked a wave of conservative, anti-gay backlash across the nation, ultimately resulting in the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and countless state versions including the Carolinas.

Evan Woflson of Freedom to Marry led the charge toward marriage equality in Hawaii. In the years since he’s come under fire from some corners of the LGBT community who say his work resulted in a step backward for LGBT equality. The same or similar complaints have been lodged against those who pushed for marriage equality in Massachusetts, which resulted in the string of anti-LGBT, anti-family marriage amendments from 2004 and onward.

Wolfson’s statement today:

In the 1990s, Hawaii began the national conversation about ending gay couples’ exclusion from marriage, and was the first to create a legal status to provide some state-level recognition and protections for same-sex couples. The legislature’s passage of a civil union bill marks a major step forward in Hawaii’s journey toward fairness and equality, but falls short of the full security and equal protection that come only with the freedom to marry. In the years since the groundbreaking Hawaii marriage case, the experience of other states such as Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey – as well as several countries — has been that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. I urge Governor Lingle to swiftly sign House Bill 444 into law, and to Hawaii continuing its journey and finishing the job by ending the denial of marriage.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.